These Scattered Houses by Gretchen Altabef
Rarely does a pastiche capture so many elements of an original Sherlock Holmes story as Ms, Altabef’s These Scattered Houses. Written in the first person, we are privy to Holmes’ thought processes, which are also evident in his often poignant journal entries intended for Dr. Watson’s later use. These entries recall the use of a similar device successfully used by Bram Stoker in his acclaimed Dracula.
We encounter Holmes on the final leg of his three year hiatus, in the person of Sigerson, whose renowned exploits are published in the National Graphic magazine. He encounters several personages along the way who would be familiar to Sherlockians and Doyleans but who would also be of interest to any reader. They include a young Houdini and Murray, the man who saved Watson’s life in the Afghan War.
The action is based in the bucolic upstate New York town of Poughkeepsie and in the new and innovative Vassar College for Women. Holmes has observed that “You [Dr. Watson] look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty, I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be hidden there.” This quote from The “Copper Beeches”, as noted by Ms. Altabef, is very much the case in this novel.
The women’s suffrage movement and the rights of people committed to lifetimes in barbaric insane asylums are addressed in this insightful book. Holmes’ befriending of a 12 year old prodigy sparks an engrossing story of pursuit and deliverance that is reminiscent of the one in The Sign of Four. Ms. Altabef succeeds dramatically in building a riveting climax to her tale.
The commitment to historical accuracy and careful research for the novel, as well as the final reveal, are noted in an epilogue and selected bibliography by chapter at the end of the book.
In summary, I found this novel to be a most compelling read. I hope to see additional work by an outstanding and obviously dedicated and gifted writer, Ms. Gretchen Altabef.
Wendy Heyman-Marsaw, author, Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson’s Kitchen, November 24, 2019.